When I was in college Oprah Winfrey was doing a lot of television episodes about gratitude. I remember learning about the concept of a gratitude journal and the challenge to write down five things each and every day that you are grateful for. I wasn’t the happiest of people during these years, and this journal seemed to be just what I needed. I bought a notebook-it had a small, sturdy cover with a black and white image of the Brooklyn Bridge- and took the challenge. The hardest part was the daily commitment- harder than finding things to be grateful for.
I’ve been teaching and coaching and consulting since 2000. Recently at my school we were asked to find a quote, or two, that speaks to us. We were going to engage in materials work. As a school committed to doing the work we ask of children, we spend a few Fridays each year working side by side as adults engaged with our hands and the making of things. I came across a quote from Melody Beattie: “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion to clarity.” With this quote I created my first liquid watercolor painting. I was so very grateful for the quote, for the chance to work with my hands, for the opportunity to do the work that children do at our school.
And yet. In my professional and personal life I’ve spent much of the last year not focusing on gratitude and instead channeling perspective. As a mom to a (frequently sick) toddler, a literacy coach, and consultant it’s not always helpful to enter the living room or classroom and encourage my daughter or teachers to be grateful. Sometimes what a teacher needs is a reminder about perspective. In this high stakes, high stress environment that teachers are living through, it can feel impossible to remember that each year they are growing.
When I was a new classroom teacher my own staff developer shared, ‘it takes one year to learn how to be a workshop teacher. It takes five years to become skilled.’ When I look at the teachers I’m supporting in the Bronx or Albany or elsewhere I work hard to remember this. The teaching of reading is so deeply complex, no one, myself especially, can figure it out in a year. It takes time. And holding that perspective, alongside the gratitude we have for this marvelous and exhausting profession, is a recipe for joy. And I’m pretty sure each classroom I’ve been in these past few years can benefit from a little more joy.